Luckily, we can measure these fluctuations in samples that are dated by other methods.Tree rings can be counted and their radiocarbon content measured.Radioactive decay can be used as a “clock” because it is unaffected by physical (e.g. For instance, the amount varies according to how many cosmic rays reach Earth.
The calibrated date is our “best estimate” of the sample’s actual age, but we need to be able to return to old dates and recalibrate them because new research is continually used to update the calibration curve.
Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Australian National University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.
Moving away from techniques, the most exciting thing about radiocarbon is what it reveals about our past and the world we live in.
Radiocarbon dating was the first method that allowed archaeologists to place what they found in chronological order without the need for written records or coins.